Wednesday, April 22, 2015
TMFW 85 - Weezer Earns a B+
Last Wednesday, TMFW told the story of Mozart ripping off the pope during Holy Week, 1770. It was appropriate timing given that Easter of that year fell on April 15. Today's TMFW is another good April 15 music story, separated from last week's by only a couple hundred years.
This week's story begins on March 9, 1993, when the band Weezer played a set at the now-defunct Rhino Records in Santa Monica, California. The band was quite young at that time and they were playing their way around LA in search of a deal. At the Rhino in-store appearance, sound was done by a fellow named Dale Johnson. Johnson was only a part-time sound guy for the store, as he was a student at Loyola Marymount University in LA.
Johnson was in a music engineering class, and his final project that semester was to record a song at his school's recording studio. He asked Weezer to help him do it. The band, who would not be signed to DGC Records until June of that year and who did not start recording their first big record until August, obliged (and was no-doubt happy to get some free studio time.) The band's bass player Matt Sharp insisted that the group must own the master recording, and Johnson agreed.
On April 15, 1993, Weezer and Johnson recorded six takes of the song "Jamie." The recording was "live to 2-track," meaning that the band played their instruments on one track and Weezer's singer Rivers Cuomo simultaneously did vocals on another. They were done in a little over an hour, and Johnson used the sixth take as his class project submission. Though Weezer would have a platinum record less than a year later, the song earned Johnson only a B+.
That little story - that a pre-megastardom Weezer played on a kid's class project - is a pretty good one by itself. But what makes it worthy of this week's TMFW is the life that the song went on to live.
Shortly after Weezer's debut album took off, DGC records released a compilation album featuring several of its artists called DGC Rarities, Vol. 1. Weezer chose Johnson's recording of "Jamie" for the record - it was good luck that he had given them ownership of the master - and included a shout out to Johnson in the liner notes for the CD. The write-up for the song explained that "[t]his recording was done live to 2-track at LMU for this guy Dale's Junior Recording project. He only got a B+, but it still sounds cool." DGC also used the track as a B-side on the "Buddy Holly" single. "Jamie" became a fan-favorite and a frequent Weezer setlist item, and though he didn't get an A grade Johnson's one-hour class project became an engineering credit on two major-label releases. Not bad at all.
BONUS FACT: Rivers Cuomo has a brother named Leaves.
BONUS FACT 2: "Jamie" had the working title "Jamie Young, Esquire." The song is one of love and appreciation for the band's first lawyer, who they worked with starting in March, 1993. She inspired another song, too: Matt Sharp wrote the song "Mrs. Young" about her in 1993, and reworked it into "Please Let That Be You," which appeared on the debut album of Sharp's band The Rentals. I like to think I am a decent lawyer, but to my knowledge none of my clients have ever written a love song about me.
BONUS FACT 3: The "Please Let That Be You" video linked above prominently features Maya Rudolph (of Saturday Night Live fame), who was a touring member of The Rentals before she joined the show.
BONUS FACT 4: Rudolph was in one of my favorite "stupid SNL skits that nevertheless make me laugh:" Tennis Talk With Time Traveling Scott Joplin. The concept is that Scott Joplin travels through time and hosts a talk show where, between short bursts of ragtime music, he opines on women's tennis issues. It's so dumb, and only 12 years later the characterization of the women's tennis players seems anachronistically sexist, but Rudolph is so good in it.
BONUS FACT 5: Maya Rudolph's mother is Minnie "Lovin' You" Riperton.
BONUS FACT 6: Jamie Young is still practicing law; she is a named partner at a media law firm in LA.